LatinaLista — It’s one thing to express an opinion over who should win an election but to use threatening language that is meant to influence the outcome of an election is quite another. In fact, in many circles it would be considered criminal.
Yet, that is what is happening in anticipation of El Salvador’s Sunday presidential elections. It would be expected that such threatening rhetoric would be voiced during a country’s election but some of those threats are coming from our own U.S. Congress.
Members of OrganizaciÃ³n de Estados Americanos (OEA) are but a few of the contingent of observers arriving in El Salvador to observe election proceedings.
To give a little background:
El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s was a brutal front in the Cold War that claimed 75,000 lives. The country was a frightening place where right-wing hit men assassinated the archbishop of San Salvador as he celebrated Mass, executed six Jesuit priests in the night and murdered American churchwomen by the side of a highway.
The war ended in 1992 with a peace agreement that allowed leftist guerrillas to trade their guns for participation in a political system long monopolized by wealthy landowners and the military. The ex-rebels’ Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN party, has won many legislative and mayoral seats since then, and Sunday’s national election offers it the first real chance to end two decades of rule by the National Republican Alliance, or Arena party.
The alleged fear of those opposed to FMLN winning is that they will take the country in the direction of Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chavez. Though popular media doesn’t portray the FMLN leadership like that, there are some who want the people to believe that â€” and some of those critics are sitting in the United States Congress.
Recently, two Republican congressmen, Trent Franks (R-Ariz) and Dan Burton (R-Ind) went on record to say that if FMLN won the election on Sunday it would be very bad for the 2.5 million El Salvadoran immigrants in the United States.
The U.S. congressmen said if FMLN won then Salvadoran immigrants who live in the U.S. could see their “temporary protected status” revoked which allows them to work and live here legally. These two government leaders also said that the remittances being sent by Salvadoran immigrants to their families back home could be blocked.
The crazy thing is that these men, regardless of their positions, don’t have the authority to speak for this country or administration. Yet, because of their arrogance in using their public platforms to attempt to influence a democratic election in another country, it forced the Obama Administration to release a statement emphasizing the neutrality of the United States and the fact that we would work with whomever won the election.
I seem to remember that during our own presidential election when people from around the world voiced their opinions as to who should win our election, it rankled many Republican leaders that someone who wasn’t a U.S. citizen would pass judgement on our elections. The usual Republican response was that those people should “stay out” of American politics.
Needless to say, that is the feeling among many people, not just in El Salvador, but throughout Central and South America who have grown up seeing firsthand the covert interference by the American government that has always favored the rich and elite.
It’s easy to understand why there has been such a political backlash in South America in recent years with people turning to those parties that are more aligned with the common and/or indigenous people.
However, it wouldn’t be fair to Congressmen Franks and Burton to assume they were trying to influence the election in El Salvador without getting a comment from either of them.
So, Latina Lista called their press secretaries and left messages with both â€” one on voicemail and the other directly â€” asking for comment from them on whether or not it was fair to say they were trying to influence the El Salvador election.
By deadline, neither has called or emailed a requested statement.
Maybe it’s because they know most people consider the comments they made to be their desperate attempt to gain 15 minutes of fame.
One person who did respond to Latina Lista’s questions regarding the Congressmen’s statements was Rice University professor of political science, Mark Jones. Dr. Jones has studied El Salvador’s politics extensively and has conducted research on the country’s postwar political environment.
“For the first time since the end of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992, the candidate of the former guerrillas (the FMLN) has a realistic chance of victory against the candidate of the governing party (ARENA), which has held power since 1989.
On the temporary protection status (TPS) issue. The threats (by Republican congressmen) are primarily political hyperbole, designed to help the ARENA candidate (Rodrigo Avila). Given that these legislators (e.g., Connie Mack, Dana Rohrabacher) belong to a party that is now in the minority in the Senate and House and also does not control the Executive Branch, their opinions will have no impact on actual TPS status of Salvadoran immigrants in the United States or on future U.S.-Salvadoran relations.
However, they are likely to have some impact on the Salvadoran election, since they are part of a broader effort to convince voters that a victory by Mauricio Funes and the FMLN would have negative consequences for the Salvadoran economy and democracy.
In regard to the future of Salvadoran TPS status, I suspect the Obama Administration will not do anything to change the status quo anytime soon. TPS status for Salvadorans was able to continue throughout the Bush Administration primarily due to the strong relationship between the Bush Administration and the Saca Administration (e.g., El Salvador maintained troops in Iraq until the very end of the Bush Administration as well as took the lead in Central America on CAFTA-DR).
When asked by Latina Lista which party should win, Professor Jones said:
On the election choice, I think both candidates/parties have their strengths and weaknesses, but will leave the decision regarding which is best to the Salvadorans on Sunday.
It is a stand we all should take â€” and those Republican congressmen who felt the need to threaten El Salvadoran immigrants should issue a public apology and be fined by their colleagues for misusing their political platform within the halls of Congress to spread fear among an already vulnerable population.